Nashville Predators defenseman Ryan Ellis perfectly summed up the sentiment in the Nashville locker room after four of the team’s five games this season.
"We know we have to be better," Ellis said. "We played well, but not well enough, and 'well' is not going to win a lot of games in this division."
Aside from a 7-0 drubbing by the Dallas Stars on Friday night, the Predators have played fine. But therein lies the problem. Fine will be acceptable for some subpar teams in the NHL, but the Predators are playing in a realigned and loaded version of the Central Division.
Fine isn’t going to beat Tampa Bay, Carolina or Dallas. Neither is giving up eight power play goals on 12 chances to any team, let alone a division rival. Five of Dallas’ seven goals on Friday were on the power play, as were all three of the Stars’ goals on Sunday, a 3-2 loss for Nashville.
Nashville ranks next-to-last in the league on the penalty kill, allowing nine power play goals in its last three games — all losses. The Predators are the only team to play five or more games with a penalty killing unit under 63 percent.
"Our special teams again, it's the difference in the game, so that has to be a focus coming in,” Predators coach John Hynes said. “I think we just have to evaluate certain parts of our game, go back to the video. Then the other one is just player impact — what players are or are not making impact in the game."
Added center Mikael Granlund: "We've got to get better on the penalty kill, and that cost us this game.”
For as strong as Juuse Saros was in his first two starts of the season — two wins, 1.5 goals-against average, .959 save percentage — he was just as bad in his last two starts. The Stars embarrassed the 25-year-old Finn in Friday’s game, chasing him after two periods and five goals in favor of Pekka Rinne.
Then on Sunday, Dallas chipped three power play goals past Saros, who allowed eight goals in two games with an .809 save percentage. Because of those two games, the 5-foot-11 netminder’s save percentage plummeted from nearly 95 percent to barely above 90.
Things don’t get any easier for the Predators as they host the Chicago Blackhawks, who have won two in a row and are on a three-game point streak, on Tuesday and Wednesday. The Blackhawks have the second-best power play statistically in the NHL (42.1 percent).
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